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Parshas Chukas/Balak - Recalling What We Said When We Were Younger      11 Tammuz 5780

07/10/20 12:37:03

Jul10

There’s an old cliché: ‘Oh remember the days of yesteryear’, recalling, either with fondness or yearning, a former period of our lives. I remember as a child growing up thinking that I will never make my children do the things that my parents made me do. Alternatively,I would tell myself that I will not treat my children the way my parents treated me, that when I become a parent I will let my child do what my parents chose not to allow me to do. My rebbi, Rabbi Wein, would always mention what a good sense of humor God has. One of those humorous quips was that God punishes children by making them parents! Now, as a parent, I somehow see things differently than the way I viewed various events when I was growing up. Now that the shoe is on the other foot, I seem to have forgotten all of those promises I made to myself when I was younger.

Today’s generation is called the ‘sandwich’ generation’, a different but yet a similar challenge by caused by another set of circumstances. In addition to being parents of children and grandchildren, we are still, at the same time, children to our own aging parents. I find myself at this later stage in life saying the same things about my now-aging parents: that when I get older I’m not going to do things the same way that my parents are doing now that they are growing older. As parents age there tends to be a denial of some sort to recognizing or accepting their growing fragility and ability to take care of themselves. At times there is a struggle between the senior parents and their middle-aged children regarding what is in the best interest of the parents and family. Aging parents cannot be objective in their long term care if they are in an already-failing situation. Obviously, there is a big difference between the reaction of a young, minor child versus that of an adult child’s reaction to their parents’ decision making. Obviously, the minor child does not see the big picture and responsibility of life; at the other extreme, it is actually the aging parents who lack the ability to take in the big picture. The adult parent/child is now in the middle, realizing that while his or her parents were correct in the way they brought you up, also are placed in the awkward position of reality that they should not act in a stubborn manner in dealing with their ultimate care later on in life.

It is always easy to be the critic, the all-knowing one, the one who would have done it differently, when we are not actually the ones calling the shots at that time. It’s easy to criticize the coach, the teacher, the parent, and even the Prime Minister of Israel when we are not in that position at that time. One of the greatest challenges we face in life is balance. As children grow up ,we understand and actually look forward to our own children’s growing maturity, encouraging them to make decisions on their own. Hopefully, by the time they are really mature they will understand why and when a parent made a certain decision and choice for them. On the other side of life, we hope that a senior parent can recognize when it is time to ask for the help and follow the opinion of others, especially their children, in making choices for them.

The critical points are to know when to begin making the correct choices and, equally important but far more difficult, to know when to give up making those choices. This concept is reflected in this week’s Haftorah for Parshas Balak.

The Navi Micha in chapters 5,6, recalls how Hashem protected the Jewish people as they traveled through the desert. Micha mentions how Balak hired the evil Bilaam to curse the Jews. After failing to curse Am Yisrael, Bilaam suggests to Balak that he lure the Jews, particularly the men, into idolatry through acts of lewdness. The Chasam Sofer connects part of the service of idolatry to this Haftorah. Reb Avraham Sofer brings a Mishna from Pirkei Avos 3:4 “Reb Shimon Omer,: Shlosha She’Achlu Al Shulchan Echad V’Lo Amru Alav Divrei Torah, K’ilu Achlu M’Zivchei Meisim”: “If three people ate at the same table and did not speak words of Torah upon it, it is as if they ate from offerings of the dead”. Why does it make them as though they ate from offerings of the dead? The reason is based upon a verse in Yeshayahu 28:8: “For all tables are full of vomit and filth without the Omnipresent”. The vomit and filth (literally dung or excrement) was the actual service of idolatry for Ba’al Peor. In Tehilim 106:28 Dovid HaMelech says: “VaYitzamdu L’Baal Peor VaYochlu Zivchei Meisim”: “and the Jewish people attached themselves to the idol of Baal Peor, and they ate offerings of the dead”.

The Torah emphasizes that due to the Jews eating sacrifices intended for idolatry, they became attached to the idol Baal Peor itself. But in Tehilim Dovid HaMelech seems to indicate that they first got close to Baal Peor and then they ate of the sacrifices. The Chasam Sofer suggests that once the Jewish people failed with Baal Peor, this sin has remained within the Jewish world even till this very day. While the sin of idolatry is no longer, the drive and the attraction to idolatry still exists today. In fact, the Torah in Devarim states clearly that anyone who gets close to Baal Peor will be destroyed. Nevertheless, in Yehoshua it states that the Jews never cleansed themselves completely from the sin of Baal Peor idolatry. Even though the idol of Baal Peor was destroyed and no longer exists, the sin still lingers. The sin is represented by offerings to the idols: the breads, the oils, the wines, all of which cause us to mingle with the non-Jews, which can lead to inter-marriage and further idolatry ,ultimately moving us away from God.

Baruch Hashem we no longer actually serve the idols, but ,unfortunately, we still find ourselves eating of the sacrifices of the dead, the dead idol of Baal Peor. This, to our misfortune, has plagued us for many, many generations.

As we enter into the three-week period of national mourning over the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash, we need to look at some point of why this happened. We as a people continue to sin in ways that separate us from Hashem, not necessarily through idolatry itself but through the act of doing things that lead us in that direction. We need to clearly sever not only the idol worship but the calculations and bad decisions that are the very fringes of idol worship. This should be a lesson to clearly mark the distinction in life’s decisions to know when it is time to let others make it for us and when we should make them on our own.

Ah Gut Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

 

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This Dvar Torah is re-printed with permission from the author.

 
Tue, August 4 2020 14 Av 5780